At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Water: The key to life and future development

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© UNICEF Lao PDR/2004
Two-year-old Lucky enjoys bathing in clean water

UNICEF is taking part in the Water, Engineering and Development Centre’s 30th annual conference in Vientiane, Lao People's Democratic Republic, during the week of 25 October 2004. The theme of this year’s conference is ‘People-centred approaches to water and environmental sanitation’. UNICEF has been working in this bringing water and sanitation programmes, among many others, to the children in this country for the last 31 years.

HOUAY HID VILLAGE, Lao PDR, 25 October 2004 - Houay Hid village, in the foothills of Nam Bak district, Luang Prabang province, is surrounded by forest and fertile paddy fields. Its residents seem to have everything they need for a prosperous and healthy life.
 
According to village chief Mr. Nankeo, this is a new state of affairs however. “We are happy people,” he confirms. “We’ve increased our income by about 50 per cent in the last two years, are building new houses and are healthier. The reason is simple: We now have clean water, right next to our houses.”

Until recently, getting water from the nearby Hid stream was the main obstacle to the community’s development. “It’s a ten-minute walk to the stream,” says Mr. Nankeo, “but that’s without carrying 40 litres of water. In the rainy season, people would fall and have to start again. In the dry season, it would take 30 minutes to find clear water.”

UNICEF, in partnership with the district water authority, used funding from Sida, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, to install a gravity-fed water system here in 2002. A feeder tank on the mountain was connected by pipes to a cistern in the village. Now taps bring the water to the doorsteps of every family. This inexpensive arrangement had an immediate and enormously beneficial impact.

“Rice production has increased greatly,” says Mr. Nankeo. “Women and children have more time to help in the fields, and the men are stronger and healthier now.”

Villagers, like the Bouathong family also use the water for fruit and vegetable plots next to their houses.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF Lao PDR/2004
Clean water helps ensure a healthy crop of vegetables for families

Mrs. Bouathong grows lettuce, cabbage, spring onions, spinach, and herbs in their garden. “It only used to be possible in the rainy season. Now we grow all year round, and even have enough to sell. Sometimes I sell my vegetables in the village, and sometimes I get together with the other women to take everyone’s surplus to the local district market. We can also raise many more animals – they are much cleaner and healthier than before. We eat meat and eggs everyday.”

Since the water arrived, schoolteachers like Mr. Bouavanh have seen a big difference.

 “The children all come to school on time these days,” he reports happily. “Before, they had to help fetch water in the morning. Attendance is much better because the health of the children has improved.”

The UNICEF water system has also made it more possible for other organisations to lend practical assistance. At the end of 2003, Save the Children UK constructed a kindergarten and latrines at the village school, giving Houay Hid’s people a chance to further capitalise on the advantages of clean water.

These benefits can be instantly measured in economic output, and then by gradual improvements in health and education. Perhaps less easy to quantify is the happiness that clean water has brought and the villagers cite individual but significant improvements.


 

 

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25 October: Clean water changes the lives of children in Laos DPR

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